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Saving mortgage victims

New initiatives are emerging against the government’s inadequate anti-eviction law

An array of new initiatives are emerging, aimed at staunching the social hemorrhage of evictions from homes. Following the Andalusian regional government’s recent decree, which authorizes the temporary expropriation of empty dwellings (owned by banks and real estate firms) in order to rent them at affordable prices, have been other proposals along similar lines from the regional governments of Catalonia and the Canary Islands. While the first of these, with a tax on unoccupied apartments, is aimed at collecting public revenue and, indirectly, at stimulating the rental market, the second is almost a copy of the Andalusian approach, which Paulino Rivero’s Canarian administration terms “constitutionally solvent” and capable of supplying an answer to the problem. More than a few voices, however, are predicting that the Andalusian decree will be very tough to implement.

These are not the only initiatives. The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) has signed agreements with the regional governments of Galicia and Valencia, while that of Madrid has placed its low-rent apartments in the hands of the charity Cáritas. However, the initiatives of Catalonia, the Canaries and Andalusia are the ones most expeditiously aimed at surmounting the very narrow limits of the present anti-eviction bill, backed by the ruling Popular Party (PP) with no other support in Congress. The government has rejected the Andalusian proposal with a member of the PP’s regional government of Valencia, Isabel Bonig, going so far as to call on “prominent socialists and communists” to place their properties at the disposal of mortgage victims. But the fact is that even political parties that have often been parliamentary allies of the PP, in both Catalonia and the Canary Islands, are actively seeking alternative initiatives even as the PP bill is still in passage through parliament. Meanwhile, the anti-eviction protest movement continues, also reflecting the low level of expectations aroused by the bill in its present form.

The government’s proposals do constitute an improvement on the present situation, but are insufficient to address the disproportionate consequences entailed by the non-payment, in good faith, of a mortgage that, under the terms of the existing law, imposes abusive clauses practically unknown in the rest of Europe. To permit penalty interest of up to 12 percent, as the present bill does, admittedly cuts these down to half in some cases, but is still excessive. The power to proceed to eviction after only three non-payments is not reasonable; nor is the stonewalling dismissal of dation in payment, which the banks themselves are accepting in certain circumstances.

The EU has already prepared a first draft of a directive detailing minimum standards in mortgage legislation, for the eventual avoidance of abusive clauses across the 27-nation bloc. This is a first step, which will take years to come into force. Spanish society cannot wait that long. Nor should the government let more time go by before strengthening its bill with some more ambitious content. Every day that goes by, about a hundred families are deprived of their homes. No proposal, whether it should proceed from Seville or from Barcelona, should be ruled out without proper consideration and debate.